Midnight in Paris reminds again that Woody Allen is the proverbial phoenix of filmmakers, often discounted after a less-than-stellar project or another, then hitting one out of the park that you didn’t see coming. Over just the last few years, for example, the terrific Match Point (2005) was followed by the forgettable Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream; and then Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Next, the minor-leaguers Whatever Works and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger; and now Midnight in Paris.
So the cycle continues. It's difficult to not love a movie that opens as a visual paean to the beauty of Paris, an appropriate preamble to the captivating confection that follows. Plot thin but fantasy rich, Midnight in Paris is held together by the Allen alter-ego here played by Owen Wilson, an actor I never thought to like as much I did in this performance – a softly creamy, musingly dazy portrayal that is never less than enchanting. His character, Gil, a Hollywood scriptwriter who yearns to be a novelist, is in the City of Light on a business trip with his prosaic fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), a not-so-soulmate for an aspiring artist with a dream driving his heart.
The chimera unfolds with bells at the stroke of midnight, as Gil is picked up in a backstreet alley by revelers in a classic Peugeot that is clearly from another time. And then the real party begins. We’re back in 1920s Paris, with a cast of characters that makes Gil feel like the ultimate stranger in paradise. Scott and Zelda, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway…and that’s just the beginning
The literary and artistic giants of the period will populate the late evening hours for Gil, and provide an opportunity for his novel-in-progress to be critiqued by no less than Gertrude Stein (an excellently cast Kathy Bates.) Gil also hooks up with the lovely Adriana, lover to Modigliani, Picasso, and Braque (“That takes art groupie to a new level,” he says), played by a softly luminous Marion Cotillard, Adriana is only further evidence for Gil of what is lacking in his current life, as if he needed even more of a catalyst.